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Monday, October 18, 2021

A record 4.3 million Americans voluntarily left their jobs in August, according to number of “quits” reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). News media are calling it “The Great Resignation.” But there are actually even more than 4.3 million, because the BLS is very specific about who counts as a “quit,” defined as:”voluntary separations initiated by the employee.”

By its own definition, the BLS is counting working people who leave on purpose as “quits”. The employee may have another job in mind or want to take a break or just want to look around. It’s their choice. The largest increases are in accommodation and food services, education, and wholesale trade, with the highest numbers being in the South and Midwest.

But there are two additional categories, which include some people leaving voluntarily, that the BLS is NOT counting as “quits.” “Layoffs and discharges” are initiated by the employer. Those are about the same as before. So if someone quits rather than comply with a vaccination mandate, for example, they are counted as a quit, but if they wait until the deadline and get fired, they would be counted in layoffs and discharges.

The third category, called “Other separations,” includes retirement, death, disability, and in house transfers. These have increased, with the largest increase in education, including teachers, with the highest numbers being in the West. Therefore, in analyzing the reasons for the “Great Resignation,” people who are retiring early by choice are not counted in the 4.3 million quits. They are counted with the 390,000 “other separations” in August. This category thus combines both voluntary and involuntary separations.

So when you hear about the 4.3 million quits and think, as I did, about all those people getting close to retirement who decided that the pandemic is a good time to take that step . . . no, it’s not them.

Why are so many people quitting now? I see this as The Great Transition from the initial shock of Covid-19 to a new phase of adjustment to the changes it has brought upon us. For the last 18 months we have been inundated with changes directly due to the pandemic: cases and deaths, masks and ventilators, variants and vaccines.

At the same time we were tossed about by changes that were indirect and unexpected: lockdowns of schools, churches, and businesses; delay of medical tests and procedures; volunteers and visitors barred from schools, hospitals, and museums; tourists and foreign students forced to cancel their plans. Many workers were told to work from home. Many were laid off. Other workers, deemed “essential,” had to go to work and those who worked in spaces opened to the public, like restaurants and retail establishments and airplanes found that they were now the mask enforcement squad.

Now we are seeing ripple effects from all these changes in society and the economy. Only it’s not a ripple. It’s a tsunami. Institutions and industries across the board will never be the same. I wasn’t surprised by the decline in birthrates or the rise in homeschooling since March 2020. It seems reasonable that companies and employees would be renegotiating telecommuting parameters by now. But who expected a shortage of bus drivers, truck drivers, teachers, nurses, airline pilots, restaurant employees, and hospitality workers? This is impacting all of us.

Anthony Klotz coined the phrase

And why call it “The Great Resignation”? Blame it on Anthony Klotz, a professor of Business Administration at Texas A&M University, who has done a lot of research on how and why people leave their jobs. Actually, it’s a brilliant phrase and you see”#greatresignation” everywhere now. Klotz has given quite a few interviews on the subject. In the October 2 Insider interview, he says that it caught on after he was quoted in Bloomberg (links below). “I don’t know why I used the word ‘great,'” he added.

Trevor Noah has a million reasons

But I know why. The word Great is a trope in itself, like: “The Great Financial Crisis,” “The Great Barrier Reef,” and “The Great Wall of China.” Will this phrase go down in history? As a historian, I don’t know, but I think it has a good chance.

If you want to know why people are quitting, you might start with Trevor Noah, who says that the pandemic provides a million reasons to leave your job. Maybe even 4.3 million. Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Delayed quits. Klotz noted that there were fewer than usual quits in the first phase of the pandemic. 3.7 million people fewer resignations at that time, because of the uncertain work situation, and now these people are beginning to carry out their original plan to quit. (See the Insider article cited below).
  2. People who don’t want to go back to the small expensive apartment in the city or the two-hour commute.
  3. People who have found alternative education solutions for their children that work.
  4. People who enjoy working from home and are now faced with an employer who wants them back in the office.
  5. People who have left their job because of new demands in the work environment and/or stressful interaction with the public, such as flight attendants, nurses, and teachers.

What does the pandemic have to do with it? A lot. COVID didn’t cause labor discontent, but by accelerating change, it empowered people to act. If you were thinking about leaving your job, you might find it easier to leave after 18 months of no contact with the workplace or if your job has drastically changed. And maybe now things are getting just normal enough that people feel confident taking control of their lives. Take a look at the strikes in the news today. Not to mention the “Chicago standoff.”

Because quits are just part of the picture.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“The psychologist who coined the phrase ‘Great Resignation’ reveals how he saw it coming and where he sees it going. ‘Who we are as an employee and as a worker is very central to who we are.'” The Insider, Oct. 2, 2021. https://www.businessinsider.com/why-everyone-is-quitting-great-resignation-psychologist-pandemic-rethink-life-2021-10

“A record number of Americans are quitting their jobs. Here’s how they make money after they quit,” The Washington Post, Oct. 14, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/10/14/getting-by-financially-quitting-job/

“How to Quit Your Job in the Great Post-Pandemic Resignation Boom: Getting by in ‘The Great Resignation’: How people who quit or retired are making ends meet. Many are counting on their savings and Social Security.” Bloomberg, May 10, 2021. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-05-10/quit-your-job-how-to-resign-after-covid-pandemic?cmpid=socialflow-twitter-businessweek&utm_medium=social&utm_content=businessweek&utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=socialflow-organic

“Why Is Everyone Quitting Their Jobs? – Getting Back To Normal-Ish | The Daily Show,” Trevor Noah, The Daily Show, Oct. 14, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5fOUgKwCYM

“Chicago Standoff,” Doomberg, Oct. 18, 2021. https://doomberg.substack.com/p/chicago-standoff

Additional Sources:

“Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey Shows Significant Increase in Homeschooling Rates in Fall 2020,” The United States Census Bureau, March 22, 2021. https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/03/homeschooling-on-the-rise-during-covid-19-pandemic.html

Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary, Economic News Release, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, October 12, 2021, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.nr0.htm

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

2 thoughts on “Year 2, Week 32: They’re Calling It “Quits”

  1. How about the amount of people who have died due to Covid, Gail? Somehow a number that large seems to me it would be noticed in the work force.

    • Thank you for your question, Norman. The Bureau of Labor Statistics includes deaths under “Other Separations,” which also includes retirement, disability, and transfers. In the news release of Oct. 12, 2021, they do not count deaths separately, much less cause of death. So for the month of August, Covid deaths in the workforce would be included in the 390,000 Other Separations. They are not a part of the 4.3 million Quits.
      The BLS report states that the 390,000 is an increase in August and that the largest increase was in education, information, and durable goods, with the highest regional increase being in the West. Some of these were probably deaths due to Covid, but we would need more information to determine exactly how many.

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